Like the saying that learning is life long process, I had the opportunity to garner more knowledge as one of the delegates to the Summit on citizen engagement on the insecurity pervading the nation.
The event which was hosted at Jos the Plateau State capital, was kicked started on Tuesday, 16th November 2021.
The highly intellectual event, was organised by the North Central Zone of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). The programme, which focused on Citizens Summit and National Integration, Peace & Security, had as its theme: “Reopen Conversation, Rebuild Trust” and was formally declared open by the Director General/Chief Executive, Industrial Training Fund (ITF) who is also the Chairman of the occasion, Sir Joseph Ari.
The Kwara State delegation, to the Summit, of which I am one, was led by the Chairman, Dr. Saudat Salah Abdul Baqi. Also in the team are the current President of National Association of Political Science of Nigeria and former Dean, Faculty of Business and Social Sciences, University of Ilorin, Professor Hassan Saliu, Professor Abdul Kadir Abikan of Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, the Chairman of the state Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists(NUJ) my brother Abdulateef Lanre Ahmed.
Others are the Kwara Central Representative in the 5th Youth Parliament, Abdulateef Ibrahim, Mrs. Ashaolu Ayobami Dorcas, Dr. Abdulgafar O. Arikewuyo, Department of Mass Communication University of Ilorin, Barrister, Anthonia Omenogoh Oshiniwe, Hameed Muritala Opeyemi, Adegbulugbe Philip Olumide of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Kwara State Command, Pastor, Opaleke Enoch Abimbola of the the Kwara State Polytechnic and Abdul-Rahaman Sanni of Radio Kwara.
Dr. Baqi a brilliant and well organized woman made the event more remarkable and memorable for the Kwara delegates. She made the necessary logistics arrangement alongside the host to give us a warm reception and make our stay in the tin city worth its while. It’s also a thing of pride to see how Kwara was singled out publicly for accolades among other states in the north central zone which comprises of Kogi, Niger, Benue, Kwara, Nasarawa and Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
Dr. Baqi who shows vested interest in the career development of everyone that comes across her, ensured that we participated actively in the well outlined activities of the event. On the sideline of the summit were the thrills, which began with a smooth flight to and fro Abuja by Green Africa Airline. The road trip from Abuja to Jos was an adventure that will linger in my memories, while we had a fair share of the famous ‘Jos cold’. The summit was also an opportunity to interact with people from across the country. A colleague, Mrs. Ashaolu Ayobami Dorcas ensured made good use of the moment by exploring it to the fullest. she captured the event through photographs for archival and documentation purposes. It was really fun experience. The hospitality we enjoyed by our host was second to none as we were treated to sumptuous delicacies; there was enough to eat and drink.
For me, I would have stayed longer if I was not reminded that I am still a civil servant with the Kwara State Government. You know! Good food, good drinks have a way of tying down even the most prudent of all men. There was no shortage of anything. Our host were clearly up to the task. But I had to leave.
Given the foregoing, the Kwara State Government, under the able leadership of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Kwara State, Mallam Abdulraham Abdulrasaq must be commended for creating a conducive and an enabling environment for NIPR to thrive in the state. The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor, Mallam Rafiu Ajakaye also deserves to be commended for the immeasurable support the institute got from his office without which it might not be possible for the Kwara delegates to be part of the just concluded historic event.
Beyond the fun that we had, it will also be important to share the rich experience gotten from the summit which I tagged my takeaway from Jos.
Looking back, I discovered that even with its imperfections, democracy remains the best tested system for the selection and renewal of leadership in Nigeria. It harbors the rituals that unite and consolidates the unity of diverse peoples in the nation. Democracies work best when they defy the odds that threaten the existence of the nation so that the people can decide how and by whom they wish to be governed.
In his welcome address for instance, the chairman, north central zone of the summit, Haroun Harry Audu, observed that aside being divided along ethnic, religious political and social lines which in itself showed the wide gap between the rich and poor, he said a particular research work which analyzed the thoughts of Nigerians, revealed that 65% Nigerians want Nigeria to divide while 82% feel more comfortable with dual identities instead of believing in one Nigeria, 55% have trust in their tribes, 44% have trust in their traditional leaders, 26% have trust in their religious leaders, 26% have trust in the judiciary, 22% have trust in the national assembly, 22% have trust in the Nigerian police, 42.5% are only learning in social coerciveness and 63% are willingness to cooperate with fellow citizens. That is the way we think indeed and I agree completely with Audu.
In guaranteeing the peaceful coexistence in our country, the Nigerian state must maintain its status as the ultimate guarantor of order in our federation, as failure to protect a Nigerian in one state, sends signal to the world that perhaps the Nigerian state had failed at last. For me, an injury to one should be seen as injury to all. The hatred among us is so deep seated that, I know Christians who would never eat Eidil-Kabir (Salah) meat and I know Muslims who would never step into a church even for a secular event. The unliberated mind is instinctively given to prejudice. But this is Nigeria for us.
The dominant view, I suppose is that religion shouldn’t be seen as a predisposing factor when it comes to politics, business, or social interactions because there is hardly any family without adherents of both faiths. For instance, I hardly missed a year without going to my village in Elesinmeta during Salah celebrations to identify with fellow Muslims from my family and community at large. I also eat Salah meats too.
The federal government must be open to a more robust conversation that allows Nigerians to understand that the variant of insecurity and secessionists that we are dealing with in some parts of the country requires more than muscles. To get the vital information that would assist in tracking down the criminal elements who threatens our lives and livelihoods, the authorities need to secure the confidence of the people. But that would not happen in a milieu in which people feel victimized by those employed to protect their lives.
In his own submissions, the host cum president and chairman of the governing council of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Mallam Mukhtar Zubairu Sirajo was so pained about the pretense and hypocrisy we often allowed in the name of religion. He described the summit as “a solution driven type, noting that Nigeria is a blessed state, ” but we are trying to change the blessings to a curse by ourselves.” According to him, our endorsement makes up for our deficiencies. The country, the NIPR president said, is salvageable and “we are going to salvage it together”.
However, I believe it is only professional bodies, one of which is the NIPR that can rise up and provide sanity. The NIPR should be seen as playing prominent roles in putting Nigeria together. Though some speakers during the summit believe the north central is the problem of Nigeria and others believe it is the heartbeat of the nation base on the fact that the zone determines who becames the president of this country, I want to personally believe that the time has come to examine the wisdom of the current security structure in the Southeast, North and some other parts of the country too.
In every country, it is the responsibility of the leadership to protect the political, social, and economic interests of the citizens. Leadership involves finding solutions to difficult problems, ensuring stability of the polity and guiding the society to prosperity. But a large number of the political leaders of Nigeria today lack the vision, the passion, and the character to effectively deal with the security challenge confronting us.
However, the purpose of this feature is not to pass judgments but to enlighten, to light a candle in the darkness of national self-doubt and the media’s role in this process. We must work together collectively to keep ourselves as one. We must advise our political leaders at all levels to shun political leanings when dealing with security, ethnic, religious and political matters. It will not help us as a nation and it has never helped any nation anywhere in the world.
In recent years, there has been a controversy around the wearing of Hijab and some Islamic leaders have complained about Muslims being marginalised in terms of appointments in a particular Southwest state. I am also aware of the damage that might have been done to the psyche of Muslims who attended Christian Mission schools many decades ago and were conscripted into practices they considered alien to their own faith. These are issues that we should not gloss over and we can have meaningful conversations around them to facilitate better accommodation in our country.
We have seen nations coming together to fight terrorism, kidnapping, banditry and other security threats. We must come together and in doing this too. Our government must carry everybody along. We have seen how when faced with challenges, we rise up to be a bigger country. We have seen how we came together to fight the Ebola, Lassa Fever and COVID-19 as one people and we succeeded.
When Nigerians unite, we will win and overcome any challenge no matter how tough it looks.
This is not to say there is no tension or competition along religious, politics and ethnic and social lines. Indeed there are buried issues which but they shouldn’t define our existence. However, religion or any other factor for that matter should never defined ethnic identity and inter-personal relationships essentially because there is no family tree that is purely Christian or Muslim.
At the event, Governor Simeon Lalong of Plateau State, who formally declared open the dialogue was represented by his deputy, His Excellency, Prof. Sunny Gwanle Iyoden. The Deputy Governor, asked a pertinent question from the audience where he said “How many of us want Nigeria to break?” But nobody could raise up their hands. The Deputy Governor noted further that “Truly we have problems. Trust have broken down, but it could be rebuild through a summit and conversation such as this and focus should be on solution driven” . I agree with the Deputy Governor on this too.
Given the fact that our unity is our strength, then we must tread softly to avoid a collapse of social trust because when that happens, Nigeria is likely to fail. God forbid. Also it was mentioned that as the issue of Sunday Adeyemo popularly known as Sunday Igboho and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu have occupied our airwaves and taken the centre stage in our national discourse, we can still move on as one Nigeria irrespective of where we come from.
In his keynote address, Professor Hassan Saliu of the University of Ilorin was very honest and objective in his presentation. According to Prof.Saliu, “Our leaders do not know how to communicate well. In a democracy, demand has to be made because we have reasonable and unreasonable demands. For instance, you cannot use military decree in a democratic settings and hope to get the expected result. Our leaders must keep engaging with us because citizen engagements has no limit. There must be government citizens engagement, citizens to citizens engagement then citizens to government engagements.
According to Prof. Saliu, politics is the bane of our problems in Nigeria, adding that democracy is about the people and when you remove people, then it is no longer a democracy. His final verdict on the Nigerian democratic system of government however is that “It is not working up to expectations”.
At the summit, some were of the opinion that Nigeria is more divided now than in the past, while another contributor owned up to the view that Nigeria is not divided but only divided in the time of war. Above all, we were told to learn how to live with our problems as a country until we get a good leader. With a good leader in the front, our problems will be solved between six (6) months. I agree completely with such assertion too.
In their presentations, my sister, Barrister, Anthonia Omenogoh Oshiniwe a brilliant legal practitioner/ active member of the civil society organization and my brother, Abdulateef Ibrahim who is the Kwara Central Representative in the 5th Youth Parliament also spoke well in their different presentations. Indeed Kwara is blessed with human resources.
At the end, I concluded within me that, a submit like this could not have come at a better time. It is therefore my hope that our society will benefit greatly from conversations such as this for our national growth. It is also my hope that the convergence will generate the relevant synergy to enlighten and leverage genuine efforts that will aid the resolution of many of the crises that are now tearing apart the fabrics of our society.
We need such commitment to duty, sense of patriotism and professionalism on the part of all relevant stakeholders who can stand up to be counted. If we are to overcome many of the challenges confronting us, especially if our country is to attain peace and prosperity, we need such responsible citizenship at practically all levels of our society. What I am saying in essence is that all of us must play our parts. There is so much that we can all do as we seek to put an end to our challenges, but the least is to support ourselves.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
God bless Kwara State
God the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).
Ishola Gbenga is the Kwara Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project ( (RAAMP) Communication Officer.